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New England Food
As one of the early English settlements in North America, the region known as New England has a long history of culture and cuisine. From the first pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, settlers in the New World began to adapt recipes from their homeland to the new ingredients found on the lands they settled to create new culinary specialties. The plethora of natural resources found in the New England colonies greatly influenced the food and culture of the region. Relationships between the natives and the colonies aided in fusing together the new and old world traditions, to create the unique dishes found in New England today.
New England is a region best known for its seafood, dairy products, and classic American produce, like blueberries and cranberries. These ingredients have been combined to create many of the characteristic meals that are now considered American cuisine. The Thanksgiving feast first shared between colonists and natives in 1621 took place in New England. Though the pilgrims may not have eaten turkey and pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving, many of the dishes we consider traditional Thanksgiving fare are based on foods that originated in New England.
Perhaps the ultimate component of cuisine in New England, seafood is found in many specialties across the Northeast. As a coastal region inhabited by fishermen and seafaring immigrants from places like Portugal, fresh seafood is always available in New England.
The peninsula of Maine in the far northeastern United States is the largest producer of lobster in the nation. The abundance of lobster in Maine has resulted in the creation of a variety of dishes, the most popular of which is the lobster roll. The lobster roll is a sandwich that is regularly found at lobster shacks around the state. A hotdog bun is filled with cooked (but chilled) lobster meat, often mixed with mayonnaise or butter creates Maine’s famous lobster roll.
Clams are another specialty of New England, and are prepared in an assortment of ways, from raw to fried. The New England clam bake is a medley of various types of seafood and vegetables, baked with seaweed in sea water over hot stones.
Chowder is a significant aspect of New England’s cuisine. There are a few main types of chowder: New England clam chowder, Manhattan clam chowder, clear chowder, and corn chowder. New England clam chowder is a cream based soup which contains various clams and seafood, potatoes, and traditionally, crackers or biscuits. This variety has existed in the United States since at least the 1830s. Manhattan-style clam chowder, on the other hand, is a relatively recent creation of tomato-based clam soup. The addition of tomatoes to this dish was adapted by Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island, whose home country’s cuisine influenced their cooking. Maine, resisting the outside adaptation, moved to officially ban the addition of tomatoes to chowder in 1939. Rhode Island’s version of clam chowder uses a clear broth and the state’s signature quahogs (a type of hard clam found aplenty in the region). And New Hampshire’s twist on the chowder uses corn and bacon instead of clams, similar in style to New England clam chowder.
Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States (although Quebec, Canada is the largest producer worldwide, with about 75 percent of total production). Vermont produces 5.5 percent of the world’s maple syrup: a whopping 1,140,000 gallons in 2011. Maple syrup was first discovered by the indigenous people of northeastern North America, particularly the Algonquian tribes. The sugar maple is the state tree of both Vermont and New York, among other states.
Baked beans are another special dish that originated in New England. Baked beans are typically stewed navy beans (also known as haricot beans) sweetened and sometimes flavored with bacon or salt pork. The recipe for this dish was taught to early settlers to New England by the Native Americans they encountered. It became a popular because it kept well and could be cooked in advance, and when the beans were later canned, they became a common meal to eat at camp, at sea, or by the military during the Civil War. Today, the most common canned varieties of baked beans are made by Bush’s, Van Camp’s, and Heinz, and are successfully exported to Britain.
Two main types of baked beans can be found in the region. Boston is known for its style of baked beans that has earned the city the nickname “Beantown.” Boston baked beans are sweetened with molasses, which was a popular sweetener found in the city during the time of the triangle trade. Maple syrup is used to sweeten the beans in Maine and other parts of the far north region where the syrup is widely produced.
Johnnycakes are a type of cornmeal pancake or griddle cake, first introduced to settlers of New England by members from the indigenous Algonquian tribes, probably first in Rhode Island. Also known as journey cakes, these corn biscuits were often eaten by travelers, and were a staple during the Civil War because they are quick to make and easy to transport. Today, johnnycakes are commonly served as a side at restaurants in New England, accompanying dishes such as baked beans.
New England, and Vermont in particular, is known for its dairy and dairy products, especially cheddar cheese and ice cream. Dairy farming makes up the majority of Vermont’s agricultural income, though in recent years the number of dairy farms has been steadily decreasing by 10 percent annually.
Vermont cheddar is considered the highest quality cheddar in the country, which comes from a few major creameries, notably Cabot. Vermont cheddar is a sharp, aged white cheese, unlike many other varieties of cheddar that are orange.
Vermont is also home to the world famous Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, which was started by two friends in Burlington, Vermont in 1978 and has grown into an international product that can be found in more than thirty countries around the world. Ben & Jerry’s is known for their unique flavor combinations and clever names, which are often inspired by current events.
Rhode Island’s official state drink, coffee milk, is not easily found outside of the Northeast. Coffee milk is a drink similar to chocolate milk, but with coffee flavored syrup instead of chocolate syrup. The beverage has been in existence since around 1930, when it is believed that Italian immigrants introduced the concept to the United States.